We’d gone half-way
around Australia before I saw them...me, only seven years
of age...and, as impressionable as a mould - assuming
said mould was already deeply-impressed by the principles
of natural justice? I’d hope so...because, when
we finally got to Alice Springs - taking the necessary
detour to the centre - my parents said, once their children
had actually seen the awful spectacle of Australian citizens
living in a dump, in the burnt-out shells of old cars
- that we should be ashamed that Australians should live
- in an affluent society, what’s more - in such
conditions...and that those doing so were merely trying
the best they could, given the appalling treatment that
they, and their ancestors, had suffered until, perhaps,
the last few years...
This was 1970 - a mere thirty-five years ago -
and, my parents - now well-past retirement age - remember
exactly what they saw then...as do I. But, far, far too-many
Australians - having never actually seen the ugly reality
that earlier policies delivered to the first Australians
- are too-easily willing to assume that they can straightforwardly
jump the multiple hurdles (in a generation or two, what’s
more) so evidently in their way...as mobile hunter-gatherers
forced to leap - sans our (millennial) preparation in
the intermediate culture of agrarianism - into a modern
mobile labour market.
So, people, just let me remind you what I then
saw...as a child.
Aboriginal Australians - even then, years after
their enfranchisement - were still not (effectively) permitted
into the town proper. Any who so strayed, by all accounts,
were rapidly arrested on vagrancy charges...so, the only
place they could gather near town was said dump. And it
stunk...as do all such.
When we drove past - in the middle of winter,
I hasten to add - it definitely reeked...and, I’m
sure that this offence was multiplied over the long, hot,
central Australian summers. Meanwhile, no employer in
the town would countenance Aboriginal employees...and,
we (certainly) never saw any of same - meaning that “vagrancy”/dump
residency would be their lot for the forseeable future.
And - even prior to petrol-sniffing (which I can
fully understand) - that lot was a miserable one. Many
of the cars were burnt-out...and others merely derelict
- yet, these were (clearly) the residences of the blessed.
Most were sheltering - if you can call it that - under
pieces of wreckage...rusted-out corrugated iron, mostly
- and not a single one looked happy...even the youngest
But...they had no place else to go...
In later years, white Australia has nourished
itself upon the illusion that - given land rights (only
in the least fertile zones, mind you) - tribal culture
would (necessarily) regenerate...even if said communities
were never offered anything like the financial support
that smaller (let alone equivalently-sized) white townships
had garnered over the years. And, so...the “new”
communities merely replicated the hopelessness of we saw
in the Alice Springs dump - and intensified same by their
isolation from the modern world. Maybe - just, maybe -
this wouldn’t’ve been pre-destined had it
happened when tribal culture was still self-sufficient
& robust... But, given many decades of state-sponsored
religious erosion/the marked lack of employment opportunities/new
forms of substance abuse, I’d have to say that the
people in the dump I saw in 1970 are now exactly where
I should’ve expected them to be...